Public Square

Churches Help the Poor by Facilitating Entrepreneurship in South Africa

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At IFWE, we talk a lot about the role of the church in caring for the poor (Love Your Neighbor) and the role of market trade and business in helping lift people and nations out of extreme poverty (For the Least of These). Today, we shed light on an organization doing that well. I interviewed Jedd Schroy of Paradigm Shift about his South African-based ministry partnering with churches to support entrepreneurship among the poor.

Anna Arnold (AA): What need did you initially seek to meet with Paradigm Shift? Could you have done this anywhere, or was it important to launch this effort in South Africa?

Jedd Schroy (JS): We started with one key idea in mind: equip churches to empower entrepreneurs. Could Christians in the developing world who are compelled by their faith and love for business leverage what they know and who they know for those on the margins of society? Over 18 months, we researched and developed a model, served alongside potential partners in 10 countries, and decided to initially pilot in South Africa.

In almost any urban, developing world context this idea could work. So why South Africa initially? It’s a gateway to the rest of the continent. It’s the economic driver producing a third of the continent’s wealth, which means Africans from nearly every other nation go there looking for opportunity.

Beyond that, most South Africans live in cities, and the proximity of the rich and poor living side by side showcases the dual economic realities of affluence and poverty. We saw this as an opportunity for the thousands of churches needing a bridge to bring together what divided the two communities.

AA: What kinds of programs does PS offer?

JS: Paradigm Shift equips churches with a volunteer-driven, economic development model to serve the poor in their community. The model incorporates four key things: business training, one-on-one mentoring, microloans, and discipleship.

With six volunteers, a church can offer a one-day business training program for small-business owners in their local area. This is the starting point for relationship and an invitation to journey deeper over six months together as they unpack further business training, pair up with a mentor, possibly receive a microloan, and discover that God’s desire for their lives reaches beyond their businesses.

AA: You appear to be doing a lot to encourage and support entrepreneurship, why is this?

JS: I love entrepreneurship. It speaks to what it means to be human. We are free. We can create, dream, build, plant, and grow and when we do these things, we reflect our Creator. Entrepreneurship is the solution to poverty. I believe that. Entrepreneurship creates wealth, provides jobs, feeds families, inspires others, and turns the world into servants of one another.

Jesus said whoever wants to be great among you, must be a servant. Ultimately, the best entrepreneurs understand this. When we serve each other well, we bring a bit more of the kingdom here on earth.

AA: What part does the gospel play in these programs?

JS: The gospel is central to the Paradigm Shift model as it addresses both physical and spiritual needs. Practically, this means the very first time an entrepreneur interacts with Paradigm Shift, it’s through a local church whose volunteers love and serve Jesus. In the context of this newly formed relationship, the church volunteer team invites entrepreneurs to prayerfully explore different business and biblical topics together. We’ve found amazing application of the gospel takes place in one-on-one mentor and entrepreneur pairings in our programs. A mentor touches a person’s life in ways far deeper and more profound than a training room will.

AA: What obstacles or support does the current socio-political environment in South Africa present to your work?

It’s an exciting time for a burgeoning democracy to advance entrepreneurship for the common good.  However, some challenges face entrepreneurs and the work of Paradigm Shift in South Africa. Among them, corruption, greed, envy, a failing education system, a burdensome tax system, transportation challenges, property rights, crime, violence, strikes, youth unemployment, the immigration landscape, low-skilled workers, xenophobia, and social welfare are some key obstacles.

AA: What do you think the role of non-governmental organizations (and specifically churches) should be in alleviating poverty?

JS: Compelled by our faith, Christ followers have attempted some incredible feats and changed the course of human history and today is no different. Poverty mars humanity, robs people of dignity, and is a physical reminder the world is broken at its core and needs redemption from the inside out. That’s why addressing poverty is a defining mark of healthy churches.

The big question is “How”? Soup kitchens, clothing drives, and one-off, resource-intensive, community service projects are the standard fare for churches. There has to be a better way.

Instead of building new infrastructure, Paradigm Shift sees the underutilized physical resources of church facilities coupled with the dormant human resources within our churches as playing the leading role in addressing poverty. People skilled in business, sharing life and knowledge with others surrounding them, is the spark that could completely change the trajectory for an entrepreneur. The church uniquely cares for individuals, seeing them as made in God’s image with skills, talents, and abilities to steward and use for his glory.

AA: What kind of change are you seeing in your community or beyond as a result of your work at PS? How about in the life of a particular individual?

JS: Churches in 11 African countries have impacted the lives of 6,500 microentrepreneurs. We’ve found on average their incomes have grown by 62 percent; 34 percent are saving for the first time, 14 percent place their faith in Christ, 50 percent of mentors meet with their paired entrepreneur weekly, and each entrepreneur is supporting on average five dependents. What’s also interesting is seeing the self-reporting of entrepreneurs supporting orphans. They are taking care of extended family members and can do so through the power of entrepreneurship. That’s incredibly encouraging.

Each entrepreneur has a story. “Gift” is one such entrepreneur. Gift’s story is unique to his context, yet universal with entrepreneurs we work with. He was running a small computer parts business, yet had no real training in business, so he struggled to make ends meet. Now, Gift is a part of his local Paradigm Shift program through his church and his business is steadily growing. He changed his pricing, negotiated better terms, moved business locations and pursued new partnerships. He has seen a 267% increase in his revenue in the past year alone. Gift also received a mentor who met with him weekly.

Gift 1
Through the help of Paradigm Shift, entrepreneur “Gift” is thriving in his work.

Now, Gift’s ingenuity and resourcefulness continue to inspire other entrepreneurs across his community. In a community where poverty pervades one generation after another, Gift is rising up as a thriving entrepreneur and leader in his generation. He challenges us to look at what God has already placed in our hands and use it to create, learn, and impact the lives of others.

To learn more about Paradigm Shift’s growing ministry in South Africa, across the African continent, and beyond, visit their website, https://shiftingparadigms.org.

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